Deal with Japanese company bolsters fortunes of planned hydroelectric project near Alaska’s capital, developers say
A new deal with Japan’s main hydroelectric operator will give the long-running Sweetheart Lake project south of Juneau a boost toward development, project developers said Thursday.
The deal is between Juneau Hydropower, the company planning the Sweetheart Lake hydroelectric project, and J-Power, a major Japanese hydroelectric company.
The Sweetheart Lake project is planned and licensed for a site approximately 30 miles south of Juneau in the Tongass National Forest; J-Power, which signed the project development agreement in July, has built, owns and operates 61 hydroelectric facilities, and operates 1,500 miles of transmission lines in Japan, company representatives told a conference release in Anchorage held Thursday.
“What he does is he allows us to partner with a team player who has an extremely deep bench,” Duff Mitchell, general manager of Juneau Hydropower, said in an interview Friday.
The Sweetheart Lake project would have a capacity of 19.8 megawatts and promises to boost Juneau’s power output by one-fifth, according to Mitchell’s estimates. The cost is estimated at over $200 million.
Under the joint development agreement, J-Power will have an ownership stake in the project, but that share is yet to be determined, Mitchell said.
The main user will be the Kensington mine of Coeur Alaska, a gold producer north of Juneau.
At the Anchorage press conference on Thursday, Heart Alaska CEO Stephen Ball called the prospect “exciting.”
“From our perspective, the opportunity to bring clean hydropower to Kensington is a fundamental driving force for us. It gives us the opportunity to move away from diesel and into clean energy,” Ball said.
Beyond Kensington, Mitchell said, there is an opportunity for Juneau’s electric utility, Alaska Electric Light and Power.
Additionally, it will help bring Juneau closer to the goals of its 2011 climate action plan, which calls for a 25% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2032, Mitchell said.
Construction is expected to begin next year, with operations beginning two or three years later, Mitchell said.
The Sweetheart Lake project has been in the works for over a decade.
The initial license application with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission was filed in 2009. From then until 2016, the process went through many licensing steps, including an environmental impact statement. All required permits were obtained in 2016, Mitchell said.
To comply with the no-road rule in Tongass, the project was designed with a tunnel to be used as a transport route for vehicles and equipment moving from the power station at low tide to the water supply lake. After construction, equipment needed for operations will be left at the upper end of the tunnel, while construction equipment no longer needed will be moved to the power plant site, Mitchell said. After that, the tunnel will be converted into a water transmission line, he said.
“We had to get a little creative,” Mitchell said.
Although the project is located south of Juneau, it requires transmission to the north. The plan calls for an 8.6 mile transmission line from the power station to the existing Juneau grid, then a 31 mile transmission line north from there to the Kensington mine.